Ask Amber from The Fix

Sep 18, 2018

Happy Tuesday. I write about politics for The Fix blog, and I'm chatting live here every Tuesday at noon Eastern about the day's biggest political news. What are you curious about?

This time last week, we (okay, I) was on the record saying Brett Kavanaugh's nomination was a sure thing unless something extraordinary happened.

The extraordinary just happened.

Here's where we're at: Republicans are defending his character but have paused the nomination process briefly to hold a hearing Monday where Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, could publicly testify. Both have said they'd be happy to testify under oath, but it also seems like Ford thinks Monday is too soon. 

Some other food for thought: 
Why Kavanaugh's claims are credible to prosecutors who do this for a living.

Why they're not just he-said, she-said.

A revisting of the eerily similar Anita Hill hearings 

And I outline 3 scenarios for what happens to Kavanaugh next -- everything from his nomination proceeds as normal, to her drops out is on the table.

What are you curious about?

It's wrong or whatever, but I did have my suspicions about all this stuff around Judge Kavanaugh, but in the pure politics (which is crass) is seems worst for Democrats. If Judge Kavanaugh's nomination is withdrawn, then there is an open seat on the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court and it seems NOTHING get the Republican are fired up and ready to go then Supreme Court nominations. The Republican brass have been looking for this or that wedge issue (even if you dislike the few NFL playing kneeling before the game, I still don't understand how that's exactly a public policy issue) and an open seat might work out for them

In this hyperpartisan climate, the pure politics of a national event is never far from people's minds.

I've heard both scenarios. Some Republican operatives think like you do: This is a rallying cry for Republican base voters, since Democrats were already fired up enough. "The Democratic base is already excited," one operative told my colleague Michael Scherer. "If their base gets any more excited, they might have a stroke.”

But Democrats already think Republicans have a "woman problem;" women are more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than men. Does the Kavanaugh accusation, played out for the nation less than two months before the election, underscore that?

It's amazing to me that YOU and the rest of the media have already made up your mind that Kavanaugh is guilty. 36 year old allegations made by a liberal activist, who can not tell you a date, place, or any other witnesses, who told a couples therapist but never mentioned his name and got key details wrong. You and the rest of the media are biased, willing to destroy a mans life just so liberals can preserve abortion on demand.

So covering the allegation is NOT the same thing as "thinking Kavanaugh is guilty." 

My job at The Post is to analyze the news so I can help all of us put it in context. And I do believe Kavanauch's accuser is credible, for these reasons:

As far as tracing decades-old sexual harassment allegations go, Ford’s story is remarkably credible. She is speaking on the record about her experience. She passed a polygraph test, the results of which The Post reviewed. She told other people about the alleged attack years before Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. She allowed her records from a therapy session about the alleged attack to be reviewed by The Post. She says she didn’t want to come forward and decided to do so only after her story was leaked to news outlets.

But again, saying her allegation is credible does not mean I am passing judgment on Kavanaugh. That's not my job, and I'd get fired or severely reprimanded if I did try to do such a thing.

And Roy Moore wasn't enough?

That .. also didn't help Republicans' perception problem 

Can THE TRUTH have a day in Washington, DC? Please?

I think we'd all like that.

The problem with the truth is when it comes to sexual harassment and assault, the absolute unquestionable truth is extremely difficult -- it not possible -- to get at. I, nor any other woman I know, do not plan to walk around with a video camera strapped to me. 

It corresponds exactly to what "Law & Order: SVU" has been trying to explain to the viewing public for the past 19 seasons, to educate people about what are credible reactions to sexual assault.

Maybe that should be required viewing for all Americans before Monday's hearing

If ONE person testifies he was at the party, would that prove Kavanaugh lied and is thus unfit for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court? What if it is two people?

He's certainly penned himself in with that denial, assuming he makes it under oath when he testifies. But as some have pointed out: Ford never said the date nor place of the party -- she says she can't remember. So how could Kavanaugh know?

In your piece about the timing of the leaks, you concluded with: "The broader point is that, somehow, Ford’s anonymity got blown, and it’s pretty clear that it was never her choice. That renders moot any attempt to argue that the accusation or the accuser herself is politically motivated." Because Professor Ford's letter was sent to her Democratic congresswoman who then shared it with Senator Feinstein (another Democrat), isn't it safe to say that someone on one of the Democratic staffs leaked it? Wasn't that a politically motivated thing to do?

Who leaked Ford's name to journalists? This is a good question. On the Senate floor today, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell straight up accused Democrats of doing it. And he and you have a point that one Senate Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, had possession of the letter, and reporting since has born out that other Democrats on the committee were frustrated she wasn't sharing it.

But after Feinstein passed it onto the FBI last week with Ford's name unredacted, it was also included in the background check file for all senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- though with Ford's name redacted there. Long story short: I don't know who leaked it, and yes leaking her name was extremely politically motivated. 

To that point, Ford's attorney, Debra Katz, seemed to accuse Democrats of wanting to get Ford's name out there. Here's what she told ABC on Monday: "She made the decision not to go public, and those who were not satisfied with that decision essentially created pressure for her to come forward by alerting members of the media and others."

This is clearly wild speculation but who leaked to The Intercept about the existence of the letter? It seems like it was someone upset with how Feinstein handled the letter so that would mean either another Senator or someone on her staff?

I don't know who leaked the existence of the letter to The Intercept, which is the report that seems to have precipitated the chase to find Ford, which precipitated Ford sharing her story with The Post. But I will share with you what Post columnist and well-sourced congressional expert Paul Kane reported today about that:

For weeks Feinstein sat on the allegation, unable to question Kavanaugh about the allegation or inform her colleagues about the case.

Rumors swirled and last week she gave in to her junior Democratic colleagues and showed them the letter, then forwarded it to the FBI — but with Ford’s name redacted, only to have The Post report land Sunday.

The third guy in the room? Will he come to Washington to tesify for his friend, even though he admits he was drunk?

As a sexual assault prosecutor pointed out, it is notable that Ford placed a third person in the room (whom reporters later revealed to be one of Kavanaugh's friends then, Mark Judge). That seems to be a critical detail. Before Ford's name was out, he told the New Yorker he has "no recollection" of the incident. I don't believe he's said anything since. 

It looks like he won't come to DC to testify either way; Republicans aren't calling him on the witness stand.

Sen Grassley says there will be only two witnesses - Prof. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Are you surprised that others, such as the counselor or the judge's friend, will not also be asked to testify?

Surprised? From a political lens, it makes sense. Republicans want this nomination to move forward ASAP; to start from scratch means they risk not being able to control the process to replace retired justice Anthony Kennedy (it would take them past the midterms, where Democrats could win back the Senate). 

But from a get-to-the-bottom-of-this perspective, it is raising eyebrows not to call on what appears to be a critical witness to all this. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was asked about that today, here's what he had to say: "We’ve had two people that want to tell their story and that’s what we’re gonna do."

Chris Cillizza recently tweeted that it would be "Walking a very dangerous line" for Republicans to press Ford on where and when this incident took place. If that is dangerous, how much truth do you expect from Monday's testimony?

I saw that tweet from the Fix founder (now at CNN), and I agree that Republicans risk coming off as insensitive to common sense: what teenager can remember every house party they went to? If they won't allow Ford to have a spotty memory, then will they hold Kavanaugh to the same standards? 

But to your other question: I think it's very hard for Monday's hearing, assuming it goes on, not to become a political spectacle. 

She didn't want her identity public, but she did want her accusations to be public without her name (isn't there something about a right to face one's accusers)?

So, important point here. She did NOT want her accusation, even anonymous, to be made public. That's the whole reason Senate Democrats didn't ask Kavanaugh about this during the hearings; Feinstein says her hands were tied by Ford's request for anonymity. She only wanted to alert her congresswoman, who in turn alerted the top Senate Democrat on the committee, who kept it quiet until public pressure from her fellow Democrats. 

Do you think that the recent surge in Beto O-Rourke's support represents a trend? Or is it a statistical anomaly? If it is a trend, doesn't that make the GOP grip on the Senate a little tenuous?

Okay, a break from Kavanaugh for a few more typical political questions.

I absolutely think the Texas Senate race becoming competitive is part of a trend of strong support for Democrats. Tennessee and Arizona are also competitive, where Republicans are trying to hang onto open seats. Democrats' control of the Senate goes through one or two of those seats.

Can't take anymore Kavanaugh drams. Bloomberg...what is he thinking? Overrun the Democratic Party the way Trump did the Republicans?

As you point out, it worked for Trump. And the Democratic field is wide open at this point. I'm almost certain we get some, if not many, celebrity-type figures trying to run (and I count Bloomberg in that category)

Seems like a billion years ago, but I didn't like the view expressed by some political writers, "See, she didn't win and we knew that from polling so others were wasting their time covering her?" The point of political coverage isn't solely who will win or who won't, no? I mean it's certainly part of it, but seems WAY too much of it.

Well, covering who wins and loses is a big part of political coverage, but you're right that even when significant candidates lose, they can shape politics. I've written about that with the record number of female nominees for Congress, for example

Hi Amber! Over the last two weeks, Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke took time off the trail to appear on Ellen and Colbert. What's your takeaway on the pluses and minuses of this? Does the national attention help or hurt him - or make no difference at all?

Hi there! I think lots of candidates, especially when they reach the level of stardom that O'Rourke has, go on TV. Great for the base; I don't think it wins him over any independent voters, though, and he'll need those to win as a Democrat in Texas

Declassification of the Carter Page documents is a "red line" for the FBI. What is their response to a red line crossed? So far we haven't seen resignations on other occasions of Trump's abuses of power. Also, other than resignation, what do they have to fight back against Trump crossing "red lines"?

All good questions that I don't have an answer to. This is a big story -- the president ordering the declassification of the FBI application to surveil his former campaign aide. Trump is obviously doing it to try to prove his so-far unproven theory that the FBI was out to get him and his campaign. The problem the FBI has had all along is that Trump and his allies are cherry-picking their details from this super-secret application. 

And this is all happening as the head of the FBI is a Trump appointee. So you're right that this is a drama to watch.

This didn't make much headway in the news. Think Mueller is going to find something Woodward didn't? Bob Woodward is very good at his job but Mueller has his own means of pressing people. I have no money on this but I'm going with Woodward and no collusion. Lots of other stuff maybe.

I wouldn't put money on any outcome of the Russia investigation. No one, perhaps not even special counsel Robert Mueller, knows where it is going.

I'm certainly no lover of Republican ideology as it has evolved into today's mess; however, this business of dredging up something that happened many years ago and went unprosecuted until now is ridiculous; how can this possibly get past a he said/she said scenario?

1. The reason we're talking about something that happened decades ago is because Kavanaugh was nominated to be on the Supreme Court.

2. This is already beyond a he-said, she-said scenario, as The FIx's Aaron Blake outlines. Both sides have offered provable claims (he was or wasn't at the party, a third person was in the room, etc.)

While we've been reminded about Joe Biden's inexcusable behavior towards Anita Hill, at least he's finally acknowledged that he was a horse's behind then. Now we have John Kerry making jokes about teenaged girls when it comes to inappropriate male behavior. Seriously, can we send all of these old men into retirement? Please don't even think about running in 2020.

So I haven't seen the John Kerry comment.

But I will take this on a tangent with an interesting question: What does all of these comparisons to 1991, and one of the darkest moments of Joe Biden's resume, do to his 2020 hopes?  I don't have an answer to that.

Do you think that the Senate voting to seat Kavanagh on the SCOTUS will help or hinder Democratic candidates in the November elections? If he withdraws his nomination, or is not approved, what effect do you think that would have on election results?

Good questions and the answers to all of it depend on how this all plays out, specifically any public hearing with Kavanaugh and his accuser. Will the public find one more credible than the other? Will voters be split along partisan lines? I can guarantee you that whatever Senate Republicans decide to do -- push forward with his nomination, stall it, stop it altogether -- they will be doing whatever they interpret is best for their political survival in November.

I know there's so much going on with Kavanaugh and declassifying documents to make himself look favorable in light of Mueller's investigation, but how did the news that federal funds for disaster recovery were diverted from FEMA and into ICE's incredibly unpopular and divisive detention programs get such little staying power? Is this ever going to get congressional investigation? Not only is it shocking, the timing of it right before yet another "once-in-a-lifetime" storm should have been headlines for days...

There are so, so many stories that you could argue deserve way more attention than they're getting these days. 

I think that the most loaded question to Christine Blasey Ford will be do you think your accusation disqualifies Brett Kavanaugh from sitting on the Supreme Court, let alone the federal appeals court where he still seats.

Her lawyer has said that's not for Ford to decide.

I know this isn't the hot-button issue at the moment, but I do find it odd that none of Kavanaugh's "friends," have come forward to say that they went in on the baseball tickets with him. Do they exist?

That question seems to be case closed. The White House says all his friends repaid him for those, and I'm not sure his friends needed to come forward to corroborate that.

If nothing else, the Beto factor must be a plus for down ballots Democratic candidates in tough but winnable congressional districts?

That's exactly what Texas Democrats tell me they're hoping for (beyond a Beto O'Rourke win, of course)

I was reading who will be heading a the committee hearings that are bound to happen when the Democrats take the house. Interesting times are coming!

And if Democrats win back the House, first they'll have to go through a likely politically draining battle for who should be speaker.

Okay, great questions today, as usual. Apologies to all of those I didn't get to. We have tons more coverage of the Kavanaugh accusation and other big political stories on The Fix, and if you haven't already, sign up for my three-day-a-week newsletter, The 5-Minute Fix. It's like this live chat but in email form

See y'all next week!

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Amber Phillips
Amber Phillips writes about politics for The Fix. She was previously the one-woman D.C. bureau for the Las Vegas Sun and has reported from Boston and Taiwan.
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